"Every experience, ....."
"Every experience, no matter how bad it seems, holds within it a blessing of some kind. The goal is to find it." Buddha
Advertised to be the promise of better times with the coming of a new year, it seemed to me all of society was waiting with hopeful anticipation for the new year 2021 to save us all. The last few minutes of 2020 Winnie spent shivering under the covers by my side as the people in our community released their pent up frustration, built up over the year of disappointments and losses for more folks than can even be tabulated. Winnie could not be comforted no matter what we did as the far away celebrations continued well into the wee hours. For Winnie 2021 which was only a few hours old had already presented a challenge and we were already the victim of false advertising. I fell asleep while Winnie continued her vigil, she must have finally drifted off into an exhausted slumber for when we awoke, Winnie was sleeping still under the covers by my side.
No worse for the wear as is the canine way, dogs don’t dwell on things, Winnie watched with excitement as I gathered our sniffing paraphernalia and readied us to head off for Nose Work class. Ten minutes out my cell phone rang. I pulled over to the curb on the nearly empty streets of Sebastopol, this town doesn’t wake up until 10am on weekends, to take the call. It was our trainer. Class was canceled. The industrial complex at which we were meeting had unexpectedly shut the entry gates, access denied. I let realization take hold for a second, then let the feelings of disappointment travel through me before I took action. I turned a “U” and headed home glancing at Winnie lying quietly on her puffy, fluffy bed on the seat. She was oblivious to the change of plans, Winnie had no reaction to our sudden change of direction.
As I approached our street, Winnie felt the familiar pattern of down shift followed by the characteristic rocking motion as I navigated through the crooked intersection, then the acceleration afterwards. This automotive pattern meant home and Winnie arose from her sleep placing her front feet on the dash as she always does when co-piloting, we all know it takes two to land that Ranger pick-up safely in the carport. As excited as Winnie had been to go sniffing, she was unaffected by our short trip, didn’t seem to notice we hadn't even sniffed. It all seemed completely normal to Winnie.
In 1996 I had the good fortune of being included on a tour that followed a musician performing through India. Not having traveled abroad before but for a two week journey to the homeland Germany where my mother grew up, my experience in India was eye opening. Overwhelmed by the amount of people and the conditions they lived in, the sights began to threaten my enjoyment of the rest of the trip. As we moved from city to city I had to force myself to get out of the bus at sight seeing spots, the hustling and jostling, the crowds of what seemed to be out of control throngs was intimidating. I felt like I was on two different trips, the depressing days of traveling followed by what should've been the joy of musical concerts by night.
In Jaipur we were promised elephant rides past terra cotta colored walls of the Pink City. We were a small group which could be accommodated in the always overcrowded streets. So enticed by the opportunity to ride an elephant, I summoned my courage and willed myself off the bus. Though our group was only four elephants in total our presence made a huge impact on the flow of traffic in a city where there are no lanes, no side walks and at least 5 categories of transportation modes. Moving inward from the farthest point outside the street, it went pedestrians, bicycles, animal drawn vehicles, motorized vehicles, oversized vehicles but there were no distinguishing barriers physical or imagined that delineating the space for one mode to the next and by the time it got to the middle of the street there wasn't enough room. Traffic in one direction had to negotiate with oncoming traffic and often failed based on the number of discarded vehicles we saw with smashed in front ends.
There were no sidewalks, pedestrian had no more right of way than a cyclist, and getting rolled by the wheel of a cart heavy with a load pulled by oxen was a continuous threat. At any time on the road in any place, one traveler’s space began way before the other traveler’s space ended. The overlap was tenfold. Such a system seemed to be chaotic. How more people are not killed in India remains a wonder to me. Especially when considering the middle of the street, the battlegrounds where the motorized travelers fought for position.
Our bus was small by American bus size standards but larger than most of the vehicles and was managed by the driver and a navigator required by law in India for any vehicle of a certain size. Our driver was Susheel, the name is etched in memory as I heard it repeatedly shouted time after time in communication by the navigator who often had to jump off and step ahead to clear a path.
Now that we were on the streets but not on the bus and woefully without the strong presence of our forceful navigator, our elephant handlers who were just young boys were being pushed around by older people with camels or bicyclists pulling rickshaws with tourists.
Our progress was slow but I took the time to chat with our elephant driver who spoke english very well. He was a happy boy, more fortunate than many to have an uncle who kept elephants. The boy went to school in the morning, then spent the rest of his time sitting on the neck of his valiant steed. The elephants were probably happy, too, I have to assume as the boy explained they all live together, elephants and humans, they are partners in every way. Revered above humans, if times are tough the elephants ate before the family for without them there will be no earning money for food tomorrow. With trunks held high or sometimes swinging, the elephants ambled along and their energy moved through my body. I felt my attitude shift.
I am grateful to this day for that elephant ride, it is believed that the raised trunk of an elephant symbolizes good luck and I was that day receptive to what was offered. An opportunity to change perspective, that conversation with the young Indian teenager made me ashamed to have felt sorry for these people who owned little of value, existed meagerly from day to day, and who epitomized my definition of poverty. As the elephant raised his trunk to offer the gift of good fortune, I will always raise my perspective to look beyond what I see. I have since stayed true to the lesson I received from that experience and remind myself to look up no matter the despair.
Driving down my driveway today feeling bummed we didn't get to play with Winnie’s nose, I look up as the elephant teaches to see Winnie, her feet balanced precariously on the dash as we bump across the gravel. With obvious joy, Winnie knows no disappointment. She is simply grateful se what the next moment brings.
And so we spend a cozy day at home, I have a second cup of morning tea while Winnie naps and then we bake a cake. What else should we do? All we require to live the good life is the better perspective. WE can't change what is, but we can change how we see it.